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Williams column: What a thrill to see Ospreys’ new chance

Shane Williams in action for the Ospreys

I nearly choked on my cornflakes when I read about the new investment coming into the Ospreys. What a turn-around for my old club.

It hardly seems a year ago that we were talking about them possibly being taken over by either the Blues or the Scarlets. Yet now they are facing an altogether different future thanks to the 75.1 per cent stake taken in them by the Asian-based sports marketing company, Y11 Sports and Media.

I wonder what the Scarlets are thinking now, especially as the announcement came on the same day as they confirmed that Hadleigh Parkes was definitely leaving Parc y Scarlets.

But what does it all mean? Will we see a return to the old Galactico days when we saw world class players all over the pitch in Ospreys jerseys? That would be nice, but it is not a route I expect to see the new owners go down.

Reading between the lines of what was said by Y11 co-founder James Davis-Yandle, we can look forward to a refresh, re-brand and re-launch of what has been a rather sad and tired looking business in recent years. More importantly, it looks as though the new boys know their way around the professional sporting market place and can introduce some much needed energy and expertise to the board room, and the business as a whole, at the Liberty Stadium.

Most of the conversations I’ve had over the past few days about the news have centred around two questions. Why the Ospreys and why now?

As far as the first one is concerned, the Ospreys can lay claim to being the most successful of all the Welsh regions over the past 17 years and they play at the heart of a sporting city that is renowned and revered across Europe. The Liberty Stadium is as good a venue in which to play rugby as almost any in Europe, although it does need many more bums on seats than it has enjoyed. Once again, that is where the expertise and ambition of the new shareholders will come into play.

On the field, with only two wins all season, it has been a tough time for the coaches, players and supporters. But I get the sense that things have definitely bottomed out, making this the perfect time to build upwards from ground zero.

Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric and Rhys Webb have all signed up for more, Gareth Anscombe will finally be able to make his debut after recovering from injury when rugby resumes and there are other Grand Slam stars in the squad in the shape of George North, Nicky Smith, Adam Beard, Scott Williams and Owen Watkin.

The Academy is still producing plenty of good talent – Dewi Lake, Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler, Harri Morgan and Cai Evans are among the latest crop – and the players will all be in the hands of a new, highly-respected head coach, Toby Booth, next season. And everything to do with the rugby will have the quality hand of Mike Ruddock guiding it.

Ospreys centre Tiaan Thomas-Wheelers
Support cast: Shane Williams hopes resource will be available for the Ospreys to surround their emerging academy stars, such as Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler, with top talent. Athena Pictures/Getty Images

So why shouldn’t things get better? Why wouldn’t you believe that, given parity on the funding front from the Professional Rugby Board, allied to the new investment, there is only one way for the Ospreys to go – and that is up!

I’m excited about what might happen, but I have to confess I’m probably most encouraged by what the new investors might do for the business as a whole. It needs sharpening up on the commercial side, must build on its already strong links with the community clubs and find ways to get more people engaged.

The conversation has changed following the take-over from season long doom and gloom to what now might be possible. Next up the results have to improve and the fans must be wooed back. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

SHANE WILLIAMS

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